Friday :: Jul 11, 2003

Timeline Leading to Iraq War

by Mary

Posted by Mary
[Last updated April 7, 2006]

Today we know that the Bush administration was obsessed with going to war against Iraq from before the earliest days of the administration. Many of Bush's foreign policy team were convinced that Saddam needed to be taken out and they very opportunistically used 9/11 to convince the country about the necessity of the war. Of course, even 9/11 wasn't quite enough to convince the country, therefore, they put on an elaborate Kabuki show to sell their war.

The Bush and Blair administrations knew that they needed to provide a sufficient excuse for invading Iraq, and the only sufficiently compelling excuse was to make a case that Saddam was an imminent threat that would justify a preemptive attack. Although there was lots of discussion about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), the only type of weapons that the world would see as a legitimate excuse was the charge the Saddam was on the verge of reconstituting his nuclear program. Thus, the major linchpin for the Bush/Blair case for war against Iraq were the two claims that Saddam was importing Aluminum tubes for centrifuges and that he was trying to buy uranium on the black market. Now we know these claims are untrue. But even before the vote in Congress in October 2003, there was much evidence that the charges were based on faulty information and even on outright disinformation.

Much of the evidence has been available in the public record for quite some time, although there is new confirmation regularly being aired. Filling in the timeline helps pin down what was known and when. Note: this timeline is focused on the events leading upto the war for the most part. The goal is to provide verifiable and original documentation where at all possible.

One observation one can make when tracking the claims that Saddam had an active nuclear program, is how sometimes the emphasis was on one of these claims and sometimes on the other, based on what had been the current pushback by the experts who studied the evidence.

It seems very clear that the claim Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear program was based on shaky, easily disputed evidence. This evidence was used to justify the war and tainted the vote to give Bush the authorization to go to war in October. Even then experts considered the evidence bad and those in the Congress who feel their vote was based on deception have a right to be angry.

An Updated Timeline on Taking the Country to War against Iraq

Summer 1999: Mickey Herskowitz, ghost writer for Bush's autobiography, says candidate George W. Bush was talking about war with Iraq before 9/11.
Two Years Before 9/11, Candidate Bush was Already Talking Privately About Attacking Iraq, According to His Former Ghost Writer
Russ Baker, October 28, 2004
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." .... According to Herskowitz ... Bush and his advisers were sold on the idea that it was difficult for a president to accomplish an electoral agenda without the record-high approval numbers that accompany successful if modest wars.

January 2001: Paul O'Neill reveals that at Bush's first National Security Council meeting topic "A" was how to take out Saddam.
CBS 60 Minutes
Paul O'Neill, January 11, 2004

September 11, 2001: Richard Clarke relates that as soon as Bush returned to the White House on September 11th, Rumsfeld stated "we needed to bomb Iraq and we all said, 'No no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan.'" Clarke also reports Bush demanded that Clarke find a reason to attack Iraq as well.
CBS 60 Minutes
Richard Clarke, March 21, 2004

Late 2001: State Department says the U. S. obtained information through various channels reporting that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Africa.
State Dept letter to Waxman, April 29, 2003
Comment: original pdf no longer available. This letter to President Bush notes the statement from the State Department.

Feb 6, 2002: George Tenet testifies that Iraq is still a concern, but threat from North Korea or Iran is greater. He testifies that Saddam still wants to reconstitute its nuclear program, but there is no evidence that he is doing so right now.
Tenet testimony before Senate Intelligence Committee

Feb 2002: Ambassador Wilson is asked to investigate the Saddam-Niger nuclear charges. He reports back that there is absolutely no truth to this. Report submitted to CIA and back to Cheney's office.
What I Didn't Find in Africa
Joseph C. Wilson, NY Times, July 6, 2003

March 8, 2002: DSM: Iraq Legal Background memo from Jack Straw to Tony Blair advising him of the legality of war with Iraq.
Iraq Legal Background

March 8, 2002: DSM: Paper laying out the options for military action to enact regime change in Iraq from the Overseas and Defence Secretariat Cabinet Office
Iraq Options for miliary action

March 14, 2002: DSM: David Manning, UK Foreign Policy advisor for Tony Blair, provides his advice in preparation to Blair's upcoming visit to Crawford, Texas
David Manning Memo to Blair
I had dinner with Condi on Tuesday; and talks and lunch with her an NSC team on Wednesday (to which Christopher Meyer also came). These were good exchanges, and particularly frank when we were one-on-one at dinner. I attach the records in case you want to glance....Condi’s enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. But there were some signs, since we last spoke, of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks.

March 18, 2002: DSM: Letter from Christopher Meyer recounting his meeting with Paul Wolfowitz
Christopher Meyer's notes on meeting with Paul Wolfowitz, Mar. 17
I said that the UK was giving serious through [sic] to publishing a paper that would make the case against Saddam. If the UK were to join with the US in any operation against Saddam, we would have to be able to take a critical mass of parliamentary and public opinion with us. It was extraordinary how people had forgotten ho [sic] bad he was.

March 19, 2002: Tenet tells Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraqi regime "had contacts with Al Qaeda".
As I said earlier, we continue to watch Iraq’s involvement in terrorist activities. Baghdad has a long history of supporting terrorism, altering its targets to reflect changing priorities and goals. It has also had contacts with al-Qa’ida. Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides’ mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible—even though Saddam is well aware that such activity would carry serious consequences.Tenet testimony before Senate Intelligence Committee

March 22, 2002: DSM: Letter from British Foreign Office Policy Director Peter Ricketts to Jack Straw
Peter Ricketts letter to Jack Straw
Ricketts advises Jack Straw that Blair should use his visit to Bush to shape how to bring about a war on Iraq.

March 25, 2002: DSM: Jack Straw Memo to PM Blair in preparation for visit with Bush at Crawford.
Jack Straw's memo to prepare Blair for visit with Bush
Jack Straw lays out the problems that Blair faces in making a case that dealing with Iraq is necessary at this time.
A legal justification is a necessary but far from sufficient pre"condition for military action. We have also to answer the big question - what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than on anything. Most of the assessments from the US have assumed regime change as a means of eliminating Iraq's WMD threat. But none has satisfactorily answered how that regime change is to be secured, and how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better.

Spring 2002: Reports of Iraq trying to procure a kind of high-strength aluminum tube surface. Very soon, disputes arise about whether these tubes can be used as claimed.
The New Republic
John B. Judis & Spencer Ackerman, June 30, 2003

June 26, 2002 The Iraqi National Congress sends a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee which listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.
Iraqi exile group fed false information to news media
Jonathan S Landay & Tish Wells, Knight-Ridder, Mar 15, 2004
Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden. ... In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren't confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.

July 2002: Senator Bob Graham requests report from the intelligence community about the threat from Iraq because no official report had been created that validated the numerous charges seen in the news.
This American Life (audio clip)
Senator Bob Graham, Dec 20, 2002

July 21, 2002: DSM: UK Cabinet Office Paper: Conditions for Military Action.
The Secret Downing Street memo
Top Secret Downing Street Memo describing what the Ministers must agree to in order to create the necessary excuse for war. This memo was prepared in preparation for the July 23rd meeting.

July 23, 2002: DSM: Prime Minister's Meeting, 23 July, 2002. The minutes of a top-secret meeting reveal that Bush had decided to go to war against Iraq and Britain will help provide evidence to sell the war to the world.
The Secret Downing Street memo
Matthew Rycroft, Downing Street, foreign policy aide, Times, UK, May 1, 2005
It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Aug 26, 2002: Dick Cheney kicks off the march to war with the assertion: The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.
Vice President Speaks at VFW 103rd National Convention
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.

Sept 8, 2002: Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon publish a report about Iraq purchasing aluminium tubes as components to build centrifuges for building nuclear weapons.
New York Times
Here's a link to an external copy.
Comment: Many intelligence agents dispute this charge. David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, recalled, "I became dismayed when a knowledgeable government scientist told me that the administration could say anything it wanted about the tubes while government scientists who disagreed were expected to remain quiet." [TNR]

Sept 12, 2002: White House White Paper published about Iraqi threat.
A Decade of Deception and Defiance
From the document: Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes which officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. Note: there is no mention of the attempt to buy nuclear materials in the report.

Sept 23, 2002: A response to White Paper by the INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY (ISIS) concludes that it is highly questionable that these tubes could be used for a nuclear program.
Aluminum Tubing Is an Indicator of an Iraqi Gas Centrifuge Program: But Is the Tubing Specifically for Centrifuges?
David Albright, March 10, 2003

Sept 24, 2002: UK intelligence issues the Sept dossier and includes the charges of a secret nuclear program as proof of Saddam's perfidity. This report was also known as the "sexed-up dossier".
Note: the Downing Street dossier can be found here but it is not as easy to read as the following link which dates and formatted the information better.
Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction
British Government, Sept 2002
Following the departure of weapons inspectors in 1998 there has been an accumulation of intelligence indicating that Iraq is making concerted covert efforts to acquire dual-use technology and materials with nuclear applications. Iraq's known holdings of processed uranium are under IAEA supervision. But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no active civil nuclear power programme or nuclear power plants, and therefore has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium.

Sept 26, 2002: Colin Powell appeared before the closed Senate Foreign Relations Committee made the charge that Iraq's nuclear ambitions were proven by the attempt to acquire nuclear materials from Niger.
The New Yorker
Seymour M Hersh, March 31, 2003
Comment: It seems pretty clear that Powell included this because the aluminum tubes evidence was under dispute after the ISIS report. This press briefing confirms that reading.

Sept 26, 2002: Remarks by Powell disputed, including charge that Iraq had an Al Qeada connection.
Experts skeptical of reports on al-Qaeda-Baghdad link
USA Today, Sept 26, 2002

Late Sept 2002: Senator Bob Graham requests that the classified National Intelligence estimate get declassified so it can be released to the public. He says that the report the committee saw made clear that Iraq was not an imminent threat based on all available evidence.
This American Life (audio clip)
Senator Bob Graham, Dec 20, 2002

Oct 1, 2002: Tenet produces a declassified National Intelligence Estimate which does not contain any of the nuances or caveats included in original report, but also does not include any mention of evidence of Iraq trying to acquire nuclear material in Africa.
Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs
CIA, October 2002

Oct 7, 2002: Tenet reports that the CIA can declassify further parts of the Iraq threat report.
DCI Tenet Declassifies Further Information on the Iraq Threat
Letter from Tenet to questions from Bob Graham's committee, Oct 7, 2002

Oct 7, 2002: Bush talked about the danger from Saddam's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which he believe are capable of striking the US.
Bush Speech in Cinninati
George W. Bush, October 7, 2002

Early Oct 2002: Senators hear classified testimony that Iraq had capacity to attack the East Coast with WMD.
Florida Today
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Dec. 15, 2003

Early Oct 2002: Congress and Senate debate the Iraq resolution believing Iraq has been close to getting nuclear weapons. One example of the mood of the Congress during those days is that of Rep. Hulshof.
Congressional Speech
Comment: The nuclear threat was played up quite prominently in the run up to the vote:
In recent months, U.S. intelligence sources have learned that Iraq is attempting to import hardened aluminum cylinders, which I believe are to be used as a centrifuge for enriching uranium. It has also been documented that Iraq has attempted to acquire fissile materials from Africa and the former Soviet Union.
Note: statement no longer available online.

Oct 10, 2002: House passes the Iraq resolution 296-133.
House Roll Call Vote: To Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq

Oct 11, 2002: Senate passes the Iraq resolution 77-23.
Senate Roll Call Vote: To Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq
Text of Final Resolution: S.J. Res. 45

Nov 8, 2002: Security Council passes Resolution 1441

Dec 9, 2002: IAEA asks US and Britain to help with investigation into Iraq's report by turning over their evidence, including documents that relate to the Niger charge.
Few to See Full Iraqi Report
Los Angeles Times, Dec 9, 2002
Note: Article no longer available online
Among the tensions cited by experts Sunday was whether the United States and Britain can share intelligence that could help inspectors find evidence to prove whether the documentation is false without fear that the information would leak and blow the cover of Iraqi informants or other intelligence sources.

Dec 19, 2002: CIA/State Department fact sheet published. The Niger charge was explicitly mentioned as proof that Iraq had not come clean on their nuclear program:
This fact sheet was a joint product of the CIA and State Department and it included this phrase, "The declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger."
Illustrative Examples of Omissions From the Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council
State Department Fact Sheet, Dec 19, 2002
Note: the fact sheet has been updated in July 2003 regarding the niger claim with this line: For further information please refer to the State Department Daily Press Briefing of July 14, 2003

Jan 28, 2003: Bush uses the charge in the State of the Union, but says he got it from British intelligence.
State of the Union Address
George W. Bush, Jan 28, 2003
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

Feb 3, 2003: Britain releases a second dossier to support the need to go to war which was used to back up Powell's upcoming speech before the UN. This is the report also known as the "dodgey dossier".
Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation
10 Downing Street, Feb 3, 2003
Within days it is reported that the dossier is largely lifted from a graduate student's thesis and much of Powell's presentation is debunked soon afer it was delivered.

Feb 4, 2003: Australian PM Howard uses same intelligence to charge that Saddam is getting nuclear material from Africa.
PM told of doubts on Iraqi arms: US official
The Sydney Morning Herald, July 7, 2003

Feb 2003: Colin Powell is reportedly upset about the intelligence that he is supposed to use to represent the case for war before the UN.
Truth and consequences
US News Report, June 9, 2003
At one point during the rehearsal, Powell tossed several pages in the air. "I'm not reading this," he declared. "This is bullshit." (US News Report June 9, 2003 -- now only available in the paid archive, text available here. )

Feb 5, 2003: Colin Powell's presentation before the UN does not have the "Saddam is trying to acquire uranium from Africa/Niger" charge.
Iraq: Failing to Disarm
Colin Powell, Remarks to UN, Feb 5, 2003
From an Australian newspaper: "Only eight days later when Secretary [of State Colin] Powell made his presentation to the Security Council and didn't mention a word of it, I realised it must be that same piece of garbage we discredited some months earlier," Mr Theilmann said.

Feb 2003: CIA gets handed the Niger documents. After the CIA gets a copy, the administration finally hands them over to the IAEA.
CIA didn't get disputed documents until February 2003 after Bush claim
Boston Globe, July 16, 2003
Note: article no longer available online. A copy is available here.
Bush Charge on Iraq Arms Had Doubters, House Told
NY Times, July 9, 2003
Note: This is clearly a lie, because we now know from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSCI) report that the CIA got their copy of this report in October: On October 16, 2002, INR made copies of the documents available at the NIAG meeting for attendees, including representatives from the CIA, DIA, DOE and NSA. Because the analyst who offered to provide the documents was on leave, the office's senior analyst provided the documents. She cannot recall how she made the documents available, but analysts from several agencies, including the DIA, NSA and DOE, did pick up copies at that meeting. None of the four CIA representatives recall picking up the documents, however, during the CIA Inspector General's investigation of this issue, copies of the documents were found in the DO's CPD vault. (page 58)

March 7, 2003: IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei presents the IAEA assessment of Niger evidence to the Security Council - namely that the Niger documents are a forgery.
IAEA Report
Mohammed ElBaradei, March 7, 2003

March 17, 2003: Henry Waxman writes a letter to the President asking when he knew that the evidence was forged.
Waxman letter to President

March 20, 2003: Iraq War Starts
U.S. launches cruise missiles at Saddam
CNN, March 20, 2003

March 26, 2003: IAEA official reports that both the UK and the USA said the Niger documents were the only proof they had to back the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium.
U.N. Official: Fake Iraq Nuke Papers Were Crude
Reuters, March 26, 2003
The IAEA asked the U.S. and Britain if they had any other evidence backing the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium. The answer was no.

April 29, 2003: Response from State Department to Waxman.
State Department Response to Waxman. (pdf)
Beginning in late 2001, the United States obtained information throught several channels, including U.S. intelligence sources and overt sources, reporting that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Africa. In addition, two Western European allies informed us of similar reporting from their own intelligence services. As you know, the UK made this information public in its September 2002 dossier on "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction." The other Western European ally relayed the information to us privately and said, while it did not believe any uranium had been shipped to Iraq, it believed Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. We sought several times to determine the basis for the latter assessment, and whether it was based on independent evidence not otherwise available to the U.S. Not until March 4 did we learn that in fact the second Western European government had based its assessment on the evidence already available to the U.S. that was subsequently discredited.

July 9, 2003: Greg Thielmann, retired director for the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. State Department, reports that the State Department IRE did not find either claim (Iraq trying to purchase uranium and the aluminum tubes being used for a nuclear program) credible before the October vote.
Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: Reassessing the Prewar Assessments

July 11, 2003: George Tenet says he is responsible for allowing the African uranium charge in the SOTU address.
CIA Director Tenet Accepts Blame for Iraq Passage in Bush Speech

March 2004: David Kay states that Iraq didn't have any WMD and it is important to investigate the reason people got it so wrong.
I mean, it is very hard for institutions to fix problems while they're in denial as to whether the problem really existed. And I am concerned that statements by the vice president and others-principally the vice president and the administration-really raise that issue.
Arms Control Association
Interview with David Kay

See also my The Niger Documents: A Primer to learn more about the evidence used to make the case that Saddam was trying to get nuclear material from Niger.

For the definitive coverage of this issue see eRiposte's comprehensive review of the SSCI report.

Change history
Update: July 12, 2003. More original documents referenced
Update: July 16, 2003. Added documentation for Aluminum Tube charges, changed title to UraniumGate.
Updated July 19, 2003: Added key votes, Cheney speech, war start, additional IAEA info.
Updated April 3, 2004: Changed title to Timeline Leading to Iraq War, added key info from Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke setting dates for Iraq obsession.
Updated July 8, 2004: Added the Iraq National Congress list of articles.
Updated July 11, 2004: Added the second British dossier.
Updated January 23, 2005: Added the final resolution voted on by Congress.
Updated May 7, 2005: Added the Downing Street minutes from July 22, 2002.
Updated July 16, 2005: Added more Downing Street Memos, updated links where original links moved.
Updated October 23, 2005: Added information about Bush's desire for war before election. Cleaned up intro, clarified some entries.
Updated April 7, 2006: Added link to the Judith Miller, Sept 8, 2002 article (h/t Booman)
Updated May 24, 2009: Cleaned up links.

Original Intro:
Lots of new (or not so new) information has been exposed in the past few days. Josh Marshall's post tonight says the dynamics of a breaking news story are very exciting and often doesn't have much to do with when the information was available.

Mary :: 2:43 AM :: Comments (15) :: Digg It!